Wednesday, 25 November 2020

How do i do it?

 When my children were growing up, I had to tell myself on a regular basis that the years were finite. 

This had a two fold purpose: one, to enjoy every moment because it would never come again, and two, to be aware that these moments would pass and never be again.

The years were a tapestry of moments sewn together. Some good, some bad. Loneliness enmeshed with sheer joy and exhilaration at the task at hand. Hard work with added short lived passionate affairs, work that was unchallenging but easy to navigate given my circumstances. 

I get asked how I did it. And I find I seldom have an answer. It feels like I am almost at the end of the grueling part, and I find I don’t really know how I brought up two children on my own for 15 years. So, for the benefit of other sole parents, I decided to try to break it up.

The first three days were the hardest. It was the first time in my life that I had to depend solely on myself. No parents, no partner. There were friends, but at the time I didn’t have many, and some retreated from me as if they needed to take a stance and pick a side. I felt acute pain. It was physical and raw. It was so painful that I needed to do things to keep it at bay. That first night, as he drove away, the street flooded, and as I waded in knee deep water and sandbagged the neighbour's front door in the rain, I knew I would survive. I did break after that for a few days, but kept reminding myself of how strong I felt that night.

After three days, I got drunk. A terrible way to cope, I know, but it ended that sadness. I vomited all over the bathroom, and somehow, it helped me pull myself together somewhat. 

I sat down with myself and made decisions about my work. Emergency and shift work were not going to work for my young family, so I started looking for a family friendly job.

I had to tell the children that their parents were separating. Phoebe was almost 6 and she understood.  She cried and didn’t like the idea one bit, but I made a point of telling her that it wasn’t her fault, that both mummy and daddy loved her and that she would see daddy all the time. My ex didn’t have a house yet, but as soon as he did, they would go and stay. Dan was only 4 and he didn’t really understand,  I didn’t think. But after a few weeks of changing sheets at night again after months of being dry, I put him back in night nappies. I guess he did understand in some ways. I joined the COPE library, and took books out for myself on how to navigate legal aspects and the emotions rushing through me. I took out children's books, and read to the kids, which was incredibly therapeutic for me. 

I found myself a psychologist, and started seeing her for 2 and a half years. I had intended it to be a short stint.

Dan started having nightmares, and that was hard. He saw my psychologist for a few sessions, and she said he was well adjusted, and to encourage art. So, art materials were provided by the truckload and he was encouraged to express those emotions he has always kept to himself until very recently.

Phoebe seemed ok. She has always been an intellectualiser.  Her issues didn’t become evident until her world changed. She didn’t like change, and moving into a new house was very hard for her. I had ideas of travelling and living in a different city, but I decided that I needed to be a stable base, so decided I would not move from this house if I could help it. I was angry at having to be the grown up while my ex was off living a bachelor's life. This anger lasted years. But I eventually let it go, as it was not useful and all consuming. I surrounded myself with friends.  The kids' primary school was a wonderful source of support and I met wonderful long term friends who are still in my life. Thank goodness. They saved me. These people nurtured me, helped me, supported me, held me up, helped my children and shared their love with me and my kids. It was the best thing I ever did. I thank my lucky stars for these people every day. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My sister came back from Perth some years ago, and I have added her to my network of valuable people. My mum still worked full time, but her partner and her provided me with a place for the kids when I wasn’t available, and they loved it! My ex mother in law did not withdraw her assistance, and once again, that was invaluable.

I decided that I would enjoy my children and still do all the things that families do. I took them away on cheap holidays. Last minute hotel deals, holiday packages, joined the scouts so we could go camping  and hiking and have adventures. I opted for optimism despite recurrent and chronic depression that would take me to the edge of despair on a regular basis. I got myself a GP, I put things in place so people would call me out if I was sounding depressed. My sister in Perth would pick it up easily. I got myself a shrink when the drugs stopped helping. I exercised regularly, and this was another saving grace for me, as I couldn’t have done any of it without physical fitness and it kept the black dog at bay. I only ever had to take a week off one time when I was so burnt out and depressed that I walked out of the clinic and decided not to return the next day and instead increase my antidepressants. 

On days when I would feel like a bad mother, I would allow myself to wallow. But only for one day. And then I would pick myself up, shake myself off and keep going. Who else have they got? Who do they rely on? Who is their rock?” My children have saved my life many times over the years, and I am so grateful for the gift of being their mum.

I learned to practice gratitude. I would find something to be grateful for, even on the darkest of days. A jacaranda in full bloom in a dark storm, an outing to the park to blow bubbles when strapped for cash, a zoo membership so we always had a free exciting place to visit, my health,  my strength and fitness, a fragrant candle lit in the evening, fresh eggs from the chooks, my children. Always my children. On days when I was so tired and I just wanted to scream, I would just make my coffee a bit stronger and sometimes have a little brief cry in the kitchen.  I wrote a lot. I did a lot of internet dating, with the mistaken idea that I would find a man to rescue me and make everything better again. That I would have a family again, and more children. But I needed to rescue myself, and I did. I learned how to. I kept this blog to remind me of what was good. And I listened to gems at work, people I worked with over the years and patients about how precious those years were, and not to waste them, be mindful,  carpe diem.

I used movies and television and books, and took wisdom from those places. Buffy was a great teacher to me, about relationships and learning about them. I grew up a lot. I was a 31 year old divorcee with two young children, and desperate to regain a nuclear family. It wasn’t to be for me. My lesson was in all of this instead. To learn to be happy with what I have. It is so much.

I read hundreds of books on child development and parenting, I attended positive parenting courses at the council. I hugged my children, I told them I loved them daily, twice daily. I helped with homework, I helped at school, I did reading. I lived with very little money, in exchange for being with them and enjoying being their mum. You don’t need a lot of money to create fun. We used the library and toy libraries a lot. We exchanged books at the book exchange. We used nature a lot, and made food from scratch. Baked bread and made pizzas. Anything can e special if you make it so.

I had a few relationships over the years,  but the biggest lesson for me was about self love, and learning about healthy relationships.  It was not something that came naturally to me, and after a few years, I gave up my pursuit for a relationship and settled instead on male company, not necessarily casual,  but serial monogamy,  I guess.

My animals became a huge aspect of my life, and I have learnt about respect, mutual affection, security and love from them. Unconditional love. Lucy is one of my best friends, and while this may sound pathetic to some, she is a constant. She has been by my side for 14 years. She greets me at the door every day, comes when I need to hug her (when she feels like it), sleeps next to me, sits near me when I cry, has taught me about unconditional love and mutual dependency.  She is here when my children are not, and has been my substitute when my kids have moved on to seeing their dad more. She's helped me to sit with grief as I cry all over her perfect coat.

She has taught me about beauty, and femininity. She is a goddess incarnate, and she will be the hardest thing to let go of as she ages.

So how did I do it? How do I still do it? 

I found myself and all my gifts, that’s how. I am a good friend, a good mother, a nurturer,  a goddess.

I never knew any of this about me at 30. None of this would have happened to me if my life had not hit rock bottom. And I would have missed out. 

If you are a sole parent, or have depression, or are simply sad today, make yourself go for a walk and find something to be grateful for while you are at it. I am so glad I did. I still do. And I am forever grateful for this life.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

NORMAL...or how to stay sane in 2020...according to yellow fluff

I am not doing the best job of normality by any means, but I thought I'd share how I'm staying reasonably sane during this period. I know my previous posts have come through as negative, but I like to call them realistic. I grew up in a dictatorship,  witnessed daily poverty, disappearances of political prisoners, violence on the streets, poor water supply, constant electricity outtages and even water outtages.  Gastro, hepatitis A, and other communicable diseases ran rampant through our community. So I don't think I'm an expert by any means, but for those of you born and bred in Australia, our current situation would be your first taste of unrest or insecurity. And my life in Chile was good, despite all the hurdles. Life here is hugely better!

I think being realistic is part of the equation. Allow me to explain the ways in which I am trying to look after my mental health at the moment:

1. Get up. I know, you have nothing to really get up for it you are not working. But the mere act of setting an alarm and getting up for a shower and to clean your teeth gives you a sense of purpose

2. Plan: I sometimes think there is nothing to do, so I  make a list of things I intend to achieve, even if it is to feed the cats and other animals, put up a picture or do a craft. The mere act of crossing off items off a list has actually been shown to make your brain release dopamine, as a reward for a job well done.

3. Exercise: it's really important. If I could prescribe just one thing to all my patients, regardless of age or condition, it would be this. It focuses your brain on the basics: breathing, sweating, muscle energy, how tired you are feeling, and then seems to erase other thoughts and release dopamine at the end, so you feel good afterwards, AND  you can cross it off your to do list for that extra bit of dopamine. The other benefit is the sunlight. We are invariably spending more time indoors and therefore that daily dose of Vitamin D becomes even more important.

4. Alcohol, caffeine and lollies. Pft.  Spoil sport. I do it too, but just watch how much you are having of all of these things. Not only will you be depriving your body of nutrition, but alcohol makes you feel more depressed over time and disrupts your sleep cycles. You will gain weight, and place your liver and other organs at a higher risk of disease.

5. Eat well. We are so fortunate to still be able to enjoy good quality food. Continue your 5 serves of veg and two of fruit per day. You will get everything you need, and I dare you to try it and report back. I know you will feel better, no one ever feels worse. Trust me, it's one of those basic things I always go back to when I'm feeling bleurgh (technical term).

6. Mind stuff: the biggie. Your thinking will determine how you are feeling at the moment. So limit the amount of news stories you read or the focus you give to our current situation. Pick one good (preferably written) source of reliable information per day, and follow that. Avoid TV news stories. Seriously, the images of horror will climb straight into your limbic system (the emotion part of your brain) and you will feel worse. So, yes, you do need to be realistic, in that difficult things are going on, but dwelling on them or agonising over them will not change them!

Try to think of today and no further if you can. If you try to think ahead and imagine all sorts of scenarios of what the world might look like in 2, 3 or 9 months, then you will become overwhelmed.  Remember that your imagination, predictions or trajectories and maps are not reality. And at the end of the day, do you really want to miss what is happening  right here, right now? Look around you, smell around you, listen, look, feel the earth around you and all it has to offer.

Be grateful. We all have loads of things to be grateful for, everyday. A friend of mine shared an article once about dopamine release in the brain from just feeling grateful about something. The feel good parts of your brain light up, truly, and it can have a long lasting effect beyond the moment of gratefullness. So count your blessings, for we have many!

Hug someone. There is always someone you can still hug. And if you don't have anyone, hug a teddy or your pet. For older people living alone, consider moving in with a buddy and sharing the load so you don't feel lonely.

Grief. It looks like this shouldn't belong here, but it does. It is ok to feel sad. There are sad things happening. Call it by its name: you're grieving. Give it a few minutes per day, have a cry.  Allow yourself the time to acknowledge it and call it what it is. But do not allow it to become your current mood. It is a normal part of loss, but it shouldn't colour your all day, every day, there are other things happening.

USE THE RESOURCES! The government is pouring money into services in acknowledgment of how hard things are at the moment. Use the telehealth services to chat to a doctor, we are expecting it, even. And NO, it does not take the time from "someone who needs it". If you need it, then use it! And while you are there, take care of existing health conditions  review your general health and your medication, get your flu vaccine and all that sort of stuff!

7. Socialise. It's not the same, I agree, but a socially distant walk with a good friend, a video call with a friend or sibling or cousin makes you feel alive again, and hearing laughter or seeing a smile is so therapeutic.

8. Do something nice for someone. May be someone you know needs toilet paper, or hand sanitizer, or rice. Drop a little basket to someone who needs those things. Write letters to nursing home residents and drop them off to the staff to make their day, get the kids to draw things for the residents, write a letter by mail to a good friend or family member. Write a list of self help things and put them on your blog so that you remind yourself of all the things you need to do to stay healthy, and someone else might find it helpful. If you are really good at something, how about recording a brief tutorial and uploading it as a resource for home schooling parents? Borrow the neighbour's dog and go for a walk. Offer to help someone with their gardening.

9. Take the time to do things you never get a chance to do: paint that wall, plant that veggie patch, call an old friend. I often think how little time I get to spend at home usually, so this is it!

10. It's not forever. Life will throw us curve balls all the time. Think of it as a life experience,  something you'll be able to tell younger people about when they are not living it. It's a historic time. Realise tough stuff makes you tougher and helps you to learn resilience and coping. So, you're growing through it. And it will pass...look, it's Easter already!

11. And never ever be afraid to ask for help. Call lifeline, call a friend, ring your doctor, yell HELP! loudly outside your house.  It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength to acknowledge your needs and seek to fulfil them.

So there you are, follow these principles and you can be as sane as I am. For those of you who know me, normality is in the eye of the beholder!! 😏

How do i do it?

 When my children were growing up, I had to tell myself on a regular basis that the years were finite.  This had a two fold purpose: one, to...